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The IFLA Position on WTO Treaty Negotiations

The IFLA Position on WTO Treaty Negotiations


The future of libraries of all kinds could be jeopardized by a series of

international trade treaties that are currently being negotiated.  The
next important meeting discussing these trade agreements is the World
Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Seattle beginning
November 30, 1999.  IFLA will be represented in Seattle, along with
library associations, in order to defend the interests of libraries and
promote the value of the public sector.  As an active international
alliance of library associations, libraries and concerned individuals,
IFLA is strategically positioned to advocate at the WTO on behalf of

Libraries are unique social organizations dedicated to providing the
broadest range of information and ideas to the public, regardless of
religion, social status, race, gender or language.  The long library
traditions of intellectual freedom and equitable access to information
cultural expression form the basis for assuring that library goals are

Libraries of all types form an interrelated network which serves the
citizenry, from the great national, state and research institutions to
public and school libraries.  The well being of libraries is essential
ensuring access to the full range of human expression and providing
individuals with the skills necessary to access and use this content.


The WTO Ministerial Conference in Seattle begins the Millennium Round of

negotiations. The Ministerial Conference will set the agenda for
negotiations which are expected to last three years. The previous
Round ended in 1994 after seven years of negotiations. The General
Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) implemented at that time exempted
services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority but
ambiguously excluded from the definition of governmental authority any
service supplied on a commercial basis, not in competition with one or
more service suppliers. As part of the current Millennium Round, there
proposals to expand the GATS from a bottom-up agreement which requires
services covered to be listed in the Agreement to a top-down agreement
where all services are included unless specifically exempted. Libraries
are not included in the current GATS Agreement and will most certainly
included in the new Agreement unless specifically exempted.  Libraries,
museums, and archives, as well as health services and education, are
potentially affected by the World Trade Organization Millennium Round,
specifically relating to the General Agreement on Trade in Services.

The following areas are of concern:

        a) Proposed changes to GATS will open up all aspects of the
           economy to foreign competition, including libraries.

        b) Privatization of libraries may result from the proposals
           for expansion of the GATS Agreement.

        c) Possible guarantee of the right of foreign, for-profit
           services and suppliers to set-up in any member state and
           compete against publicly-funded libraries.  The country would

           then have to offer them national treatment, i.e. foreign
           corporations would have to be treated as well or better than
           any national supplier.  Since the Agreement will cover
           subsidies, these corporations might be able to argue they
           should receive equal funding from the government.

        d) Sub-Central governments, state/provincial, municipal,
           governments and their various management boards would
           be included in any agreements agreed to by the member state.
           (Part I, Scope and Definition, Article 1, Clause 3a of the
           existing agreement).

        e) The Market Access (Part II, Specific Commitments, Article
           XVI) has two clauses that ban (e) measures which restrict or
           require specific types of legal entity or joint venture
           which a service supplier may supply a service; and (f)
           limitations on the participation of foreign capital in terms
           the maximum percentage limit on foreign shareholding or the
           total value of individual or aggregate foreign investment.
           These two clauses could prevent local communities from
           their library services in the public or non-profit sector.

        f) Professional standards could come under challenge as a trade
           barrier. Article VI of the GATS deals with how domestic
           regulation could have to be changed to accommodate the
           overarching goal of trade liberalization in services. The
           Council for Trade in Service is empowered to set up review
           panels to assess whether qualification requirements and
           procedures, technical standards and licensing requirements
           constitute unnecessary barriers to trade in services.


        1. To strengthen opposition to those WTO policies which will
           adversely affect the public sector internationally including,

           but not limited to, libraries, archives, museums and
           The WTO meetings in Seattle afford an opportunity to build
           links with other organizations at both the national and
           international level who support libraries and a strong public


        2. To force a delay of the Millennium Round until there has
           been a sufficient evaluation of the myriad implications of
           Uruguay Round.

        3. To promote the importance of libraries as the central
           public institutions for the collection and distribution of
           historical, cultural and intellectual record of civilization
           the service of the public and their educational institutions.

           Libraries enrich and inspire through providing access to the
           broadest possible range of information and ideas while
           encouraging democratic discussion and social participation.

        4. To promote the coordinated development of library and library

           association policy on trade issues and education and lobbying


        5. To make links with other organizations, particularly, but not

           restricted to, the cultural sector in recognition of our
           interests in the promotion of libraries and cultural
           institutions as central to the enrichment and democratic
           foundations of society.


        1. IFLA supports and joins with other public sector
           organizations such as museums, archives and public education
           institutions in declaring the importance of our services to
           health, richness and level of equity so far established in
           society.  The WTO is one dimension of a multitude of efforts
           enrich corporations by forcing public services into the
           sector through privatization, budget reductions or
           international trade agreements.  This trend should be

           While discussing the process in terms of allowing
           appears benign, the eventual outcome of permitting the
           sector to compete with libraries and educational institutions

           will be to undermine their tax-supported status.

           The liberalized trade treaties force equal, or national,
           treatment, which requires that all "competitors" be treated
           equally.  Tax subsidies for services for which there is
           sector competition are likely to be found to be in violation
           this requirement.  Without tax support, the library's role as
           democratic institution, making available the widest range of
           material reflecting the diversity of society, will be

           IFLA's fundamental position is opposition to the WTO/GATS as
           presently outlined in the WTO documents.

        2. Publicly funded libraries are part of the cultural sector.
           They are involved in encouraging the development and
           of cultural products, particularly literature, and the
           preservation and dissemination of those products. Libraries
           should be part of protections proposed for culture and should

           support and be part of any possible separate treaty
           which allows special consideration for cultural goods and
           services in international trade.

           IFLA should work with national and international cultural
           groups to create alliances for achieving recognition and
           protection for the development of regional and domestic
           cultural products. The objective of such an alliance is the
           creation of cultural diversity and the encouragement of
           multiple voices rather than homogenized and globalized
           cultural products which dominate by virtue of financial or
           corporate strength.

           While supporting the right of WTO member states to promote
           nurture national culture, IFLA opposes any obstacles to the
           free flow across international borders of legally produced
           information and cultural content normally collected or
           distributed by libraries.  IFLA opposes tariffs or other
           or taxes on the importation of print on paper or digital
           content.  Such measures have the potential to stifle
           intellectual freedom.

        3. IFLA is opposed to the expansion of the GATS agreement but
           should it go forward, it will concentrate on a separate
           agreement/exemption for libraries and cultural organizations
           while continuing to push for protection of the broadly
           public sector.

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